65 not out

Cricket is such a tedious game… which is why you can read on, as this post (like all the others) has nothing to do with the summer sounds of leather on willow… yawn, yawn. No, this is about achieving a so-called milestone. Though the effects of ageing can make it seem like a millstone on some days!

The first decision on approaching such a milestone is where to achieve it? Somewhere I’ve never been before might be a good idea. Having arrived at 40 in New York, 50 in Key West, 60 in New Orleans, my travelling companion made it very clear that America was off the agenda! OK, Europe it is, and having taken some expert advice, Mallorca it would be.

After all, it needed to be somewhere with well established bathing traditions…

And, a clear view of where your food is being prepared goes a long way to establishing culinary confidence…

With an abundance of interesting places the capital city of Palma provided a welcome introduction…

A wooden train set provides a unique way to get to from Palma to the place of choice for the actual milestone…

Port de Soller provided the perfect backdrop for ending the ‘When I’m 64’ Beatles year-long soundtrack…

An important celebration demands an experience of quality, and so I trusted online reviews of a restaurant 5 minutes walk away around the stunning bay…

And the choice of Agapanto certainly didn’t disappoint…

Until we speak again, Palma & Port de Soller are high on the list for must-do return visits. That milestone has taken 8 months to report! With OAP status fast approaching I must fly, in more ways than one…

Prosecco Cat

After a hard day sleeping… I’d have a nice cool glass of Prosecco… if I could be bothered!

You see, it’s this travelling thing that just takes it out of me. Take Venice, for example… “Do I really need a few days surrounded by water and crumbling old buildings?” I wondered. Not the right kind of thinking to share aloud with my travel companion, who just happens to think it’s the best place on the planet!

So, what’s so good about visiting Venezia? Whisper it quietly… I wouldn’t want a certain someone to think I’m fully agreeing with their personal recommendation! I guess, to begin with, messing about on the water has many attractions:

Then there are the expected architectural attractions that most people think of when the idea of Venice is raised:

Unassuming cats can’t resist investigating behind any open door… and stunning interiors await the discerning inquisitor:

But, perhaps it’s the bright and colourful side of the surrounding islands or those amazing stain-glassed windows:

Thinking of the culinary side of Italy pizza has to be the first idea that comes to mind. As good as some pizza’s definitely are, look further, as there are so many more culinary delights on offer! Octopus starters and seafood risotto offered delicious distractions for this unashamed carnivore… tuna, calamari, but exquisite meat-based dishes such as pork cutlets proved just as succulent and irresistible:

With so many wide-eyed big picture attractions at every turn… trust the locals to know that the devil is in the detail:

Then again, perhaps it’s best to leave it to Venice to describe just how fabulous it is… with a sharp intake of breath a one-word description may just accompany that continual feeling of incredulity:

As for me, perhaps in the end, the appeal of Venice starts and finishes with thoughts about liquid:

Until we speak again, the availability of fabulous wine was proving to be somewhat overwhelming… time to curl up and contemplate simply ignoring that earlier bottle of Prosecco?

How do you make a Maltese Cross?

Buy up their favourite wine and bring it back to the UK!!

So, what has a week in Malta got to offer, to get you doing that Covid bureaucracy added to the new travelling experience? History? Well yes, plenty of that…

Interesting old architecture, including those distinctive wooden balconies everywhere…

A surplus of blue? Definitely, in many shades and varieties…

But, for all the enjoyable walking and water-based sight-seeing, it’s the evening that easily provides the enchantment of Malta. When the weather maybe cooking up a storm (literally on one evening), try some of the local delicacies, either under cloth in the street, or indoors. Merchant Street in Valletta offers a wide range of choices, but La Pira was the outstanding pick of the bunch…

I do like a small menu, it hints at expertise, and there is nothing so off-putting as having to read a book before you get to your starters! On this occasion, I feel drawn to the Maltese traditional options, so Maltese Special is my immediate choice. As for the discerning company, there is the challenge of serving up Calamari Fritti to a calamari aficionado! Both dishes provide the kind of satisfaction that distract you from the rain hammering down on the open tent structure we are sitting in.

And then there is the first taste of that local wine that just cries out to be taken home…

Malta does come up with the occasional surprise tradition… not the least being their favoured dish. “What’s up, doc?” Move over Bugs Bunny, this place IS your worst nightmare! For some reason, rabbit is the delicacy set out as their dish of choice. One previous tasting of the dish is located so far down in my food memory that it doesn’t particularly register… other than the ubiquitous ‘it tastes like chicken’, which is something that applies to so many ‘its not chicken’ foods. Local Rabbit seems like the only choice to me… I don’t like my rabbit to have been travelling too far in pursuit of my plate! As for the seafood fan, Pan Fried Octopus was the favoured selection, after a quick quizzing of the waiter about how it was prepared and cooked. Suffice to say, the rabbit tasted of a superior chicken, but beware these critters come with many bones in all shapes and sizes. As for the octopus, it was delicately flavoured without the feared chewy rubbery consistency occasionally attributed to the dish.

Until we speak again, the experience was so enjoyable, a second visit to La Pira only confirmed our initial appreciation… with a return for the tastiest of Calamari rounded off with mains of Summer Squash and Swordfish Ravioli, rounded off with a local Chardonnay

Syncopation, NOLA Style

Where else can you enjoy a Strawberry Ice Cream Daquiri on a hot afternoon with a live soundtrack of exquisite, blues and soul?

Then there is the taste of a soulful bowl of Chicken & Andouille Gumbo just before being entertained by the melifluous voice of local jazz legend Charmaine Neville.

Or, you can interrupt your picking at side plates of alligator bites, brussels & bacon, and fried green tomatoes with a session by a Kermit (Ruffins, that is)?

Or even sample a brew of Dixie while accompanied by the Dixieland sound of the Steamboat Stompers?

And does all this happen in Cardiff, you ask? Think not, I reply.

Until we speak again, New Orleans is all about off-beat and unexpected variety. A place where true Jazz legends secretively perform in what to all intents and purposes looks like a run-down shack (i.e. the Preservation Hall). And, that my friend, is syncopation!

 

Gone Fishing!

Whatever your level of budget or taste you can bet New Orleans is going to come up with something that will add to your lifetime gastronomic mind map. My relationship to fish is generally one of appreciating their grace and beauty rather than their taste; but there is a small range of the critters that had just better watch out when I am around!

When the company is right for a spot of the fine dining I recently found that there is no better place in the French Quarter than GW Fins (aptly named for a seafood joint).

Okay, maybe I did cheat a bit with a Crispy Belly Pork & Watermelon appetiser; but you would to if you had the chance! In any case, my companions were diving straight into the pond after the Fried Snapper Belly (complete with fin)…

Fried Snapper Belly and Crispy Pork Belly

However, it didn’t take me long to cross swords with the finest tasting Blackened Swordfish with Fried Shrimp, whilst viewing my companions Spearfished Cobia across the table.

Spearfished Cobia and Swordfish dishes

And, just for variety, there was also an example of the house speciality Scalibut

Scalibut

Until we speak again, feel free to suggest further gastronomic challenges you would like me to take on your behalf… there is no end to the level of personal sacrifice I am prepared top make on your behalf. In the meantime check out GW Fins menu and wine list for salivation (definitely not salvation) purposes…

 

 

Birth of the Cocktail

Once upon a time in 19th century New Orleans, a local pharmacist, Antoine Peychaud, created the first ever cocktail. I can only assume it was a quiet day for the business when he decided to create a unique strain of bitters, and to mix it with a range of ingredients most notably Sazerac Cognac… and in that moment the Sazerac Cocktail was created.

Within  no time the invention was celebrated in the aptly named Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel, and it was soon to be found in it’s own Sazerac House on Royal Street. Fast forward some 170 years, on 2nd October 2019 the original cocktail celebrates the opening day of its new shrine on the corner of Canal and Magazine Streets

Sazerac House

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The original French Sazerac Cognac has been long since superceded by an American Sazerac Rye, but what exactly are you consuming before you eventually fall over?

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But, this shrine is not just a museum, it is also about to become the newest addition to the overall production line. Yours truly has signed the outside of the first barrel that will emerge from this new home… I only have 6 years to wait to taste it!

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Moving through this spacious well structured and informative museum leaves you with a strong sense of final purpose…

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Until we speak again, remember a few words of wisdom while indulging in this very moreish drop…

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Deja Vu

Coming back to New Orleans again is one thing, but the irresistible pull of brunch at the Palace Cafe on Canal Street comes down to one thing. It’s not the neatly tailored waiting staff, or even the delicate combination of dark wood panelling, white linen tablecloths and shiny floor coverings. It’s not the coffee; far better can be found with a little bit of intrepid searching.

No, it simply comes down to their signature dish… a savoury take on a sweet idea, topped off with a creole muniere sauce of just enough spice. Yes, for my regular reader, I’m once again introducing you to the Crabmeat Cheesecake that is every bit as good to the taste as it is stunning on the eye…

Until we speak again, this cat is simply going to continue suffering in order to bring you these magic morsels!

Old & New: Barcelona Style

“They don’t make them like they used to!” Of course not… it was a different time, different priorities, with less of the corporately bland requirements to have it done by yesterday. Oh, and health and safety hadn’t yet been invented.

But nobody told Gaudi and the Barcelona authorities that you can’t make them like you used to!

Take a stroll around the atmospheric Gothic Quarter and Barcelona Cathedral presents a dramatic example of what the 13th to 15th centuries had to offer the religiously inclined…

Then, if you’ve not had enough of the reflective devotion imposed by the incredible grandeur of such ecclesiastical trappings, take a further stroll (or few stops by Metro) to check out what the 19th to 21st centuries have to offer, c/o Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia

Until we meet again, whether it is then or now… WOW!

Premier League unplugged [16]

Perhaps being at the Cardiff City Stadium is a bit like watching Barcelona these days…

Until we speak again, it certainly was like watching Barcelona, as the final score was Cardiff City 2 West Ham United 0! Oh, and just for the record Barcelona beat Rayo Vallecano

Feast of New Orleans

Is it really 20 years since Jeff Bridges uttered the memorable words in his role as Jeff LebowskiThe Dude Abides! Well, I don’t know about you, but when in New Orleans your taste buds will be on a collision course for which that phrase is definitely the most apt response.

Lets start with a stroll along Dauphine Street calling into EAT for a dish to truly baffle the likes of Juno and BellaBlackened Catfish… a lightly crusty outer skin with soft meaty fish. Just add cups of gumbo, rice, and generous portions of gherkin and tomato to provide an introduction to the coming days of what is likely to be a culinary explosion.

Meanwhile, at Joey K’s over on Magazine Street I stumble across a NOLA staple of Red Beans and Rice. A slice of Andouille Sausage brings out some spicy flavour. Not exactly the best accompaniment to a full on Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, so my recommendation is to sample the free water with the food, and then gently sip the wine.

For an introduction to the definitive ‘Taste of the BayouThe Creole House on Canal Street offers a trio of cups to tantalise the taste buds, as the gastronomic Louisiana trilogy of Gumbo, Crawfish Etouffee and Jambalaya are presented for inspection. If you know what you want, dive in, but if you are unsure this option helps you decide what next to dive in to…

Strolling further along Canal Street why not try the Palace Cafe for a hint of Shrimp & Grits with a Creole Muniere, or maybe Turtle Soup followed by their signature dish of Crabmeat Cheesecake. The creole munière is a gravy with just the right level of spice to give an amazing dish extra oomph. As for the cheesecake… you have probably never tried anything like this before, and will then probably want to spend whatever it costs on returning to NOLA to check out what you just tasted! As for the poor turtles, well, you just have to when the opportunity arises… don’t you?

But, not everything here is about visiting restaurants. In between the dining establishments that provide great drinks there are, you guessed it, the drinking establishments providing amazing food. Try Vacherie on Toulouse Street, and while sitting at the bar sipping a range of local beers why not wrestle some Alligator Bites, Collard Greens, Bacon & Brussels Sprouts, oh, and a House Salad for balance…

And New Orleans may just have a welcome and forthright message for any youngsters dreaming of eating their usual fayre… take a hike Colonel Sanders! For the real taste of Fried Chicken check out the Treme based institution of Dooky Chase, particularly with a side order of Candied Yams (and that’s a Shrimp Creole that my friend is choosing, in case your concentration was drifting across the table!)…

Talking of Treme based institutions, a Shrimp Po-Boy slides down well, even with Tabasco Sauce, at Li’l Dizzy’s on Esplanade Avenue, but as a Brit I note that not even NOLA can hold a candle to our chips (that’s proper chips, not the fries nonsense inherited from somewhere in the basement of French cuisine)…

By now you are probably wondering how your health is coping with all of this gastronomic fabulousness. So, if it’s something a little lighter your looking for, but, being America no less enormous… try a salad or two, or more! Starting with the sumptuously named Satsuma Cafe on Maple Street the recommendation would be a boiled egg and avocado surrounded by the funky leaves of a Kale Salad washed down with a Beet Lemonade

Or, drop in to Luke on St Charles Avenue for Fried Oyster Salad accompanied by something distinctively fabulous that they do with Crispy Brussels Sprouts

Then again, if it’s music you like with your salad, try BB Kings on Decatur Street. The Spinach Salad with Blackened Chicken is a terrific accompaniment for the Blues, man!

BB King's Club Spinach Salad with Blackened Chicken

Did you say fine dining? Bayona on Dauphine Street provides a more delicate option than the soulful sounds of a blues club; but, starting with a Fig Salad or Quail Salad, the need for a deeper wallet will be more than compensated for on the tantalised taste buds…

Ultimately, thinking about all of this food, Envie is a place you may well be contemplating at this stage. Well it exists on Decatur Street and provides just the right accompaniment to a start of the day large cappuccino and OJ in the form of an Asparagus and Prosciutto Omelette with a side Biscuit (US rather than UK style of biscuit, that is)…

Until we speak again, not all institutions are necessarily good! NOLA is just waiting to ensnare you with a distinctive plate of their trademark Beignet. An avalanche of sugar covering a doughy case to a gloopy mess; think doughnuts ramped up to warp factor 10, this is something Juno and Bella would definitely turn noses up at and simply walk away… you may be well advised to do likewise, but when in New Orleans sometimes you simply have too dive in and hope!

Alka-Seltzer anyone!?